The Obama administration announced Monday, January 9, that it has banned new uranium mining claims for the next 20 years on more than a million acres of land near the Grand Canyon, an area rich in uranium deposits.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement marked the end of a year-long effort to prevent mining on the perimeter of Grand Canyon National Park, a move he said was necessary to protect water quality in the Colorado River and preserve views from within the park that are vital to Arizona’s tourism industry.
Thank You, Care2 Activists!
Even more exciting is that the decision puts more than 1 million acres of public lands outside the Grand Canyon National Park off limits to all hard-rock mining for two decades, the longest moratorium allowed by U.S. law.
“A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. “We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources and we have chosen a responsible path that makes sense for this and future generations.”
As I wrote here, last June the federal government extended for six months a moratorium on new uranium mining claims in a million-acre buffer zone around the Grand Canyon as it awaited the conclusions of a study of potential environmental harm to the region.
So now the Obama administration has made its decision, and it is the right one, although this only prevents any future claims. All existing claims will still be honored.
Uranium claims on public land near the national park have risen in line with soaring prices for this mineral, from fewer than 1,000 a year in 2005 to more than 8,000 in 2009, though annual claims have declined slightly since then, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Conservation Groups Are Thrilled
“One of the things President (Barack)Obama’s going to be remembered for is protecting the Grand Canyon,” said Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group, a non-profit organization that has pushed for the mining moratorium.
“Despite considerable pushback from the industry and even some in Congress, he didn’t punt and he didn’t blink and he went and issued the longest moratorium that he could under his executive authority,” Danowitz said in a telephone interview.
The Pew group, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Center for American Progress and other environmental and progressive groups applauded the decision as protecting the Colorado River watershed, which supplies drinking water for 25 million people.
Opponents Slammed The Decision
But while conservationists saw this decision as key to the president’s environmental legacy, opponents slammed it as a job-killer.
The National Mining Association expressed disappointment, but stopped short of announcing an immediate challenge to the decision. Industry groups, typified by the Institute for Energy Research, opposed the decision as a big-government move that will hurt consumers.
Members of Congress from Western states, including Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, denounced the decision as “a devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona.”
Republicans in Congress sharply criticized the decision, saying it was based on inadequate analysis of the connection between uranium mining and water pollution. Republicans are pushing legislation that would reverse the ban, although such legislation is not expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
As someone who loves backpacking in the Grand Canyon, I applaud the Obama administration for making the correct decision.
Photo Credit: mgupta34